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ENGLAND’S junior doctors refuse to play Jeremy Hunt’s game by calling off justified strike action in favour of a return to the negotiating table.
The Health Secretary has had years to play fair by the junior doctors and to negotiate honestly with the British Medical Association (BMA) but has chosen not to do so.
He has misrepresented their case and his own, portraying junior doctors as pursuing increased pay and pretending that he is offering an improved contract.
Even Hunt must be capable of understanding that no workforce rejects a package by 98 per cent unless it is toxic.
NHS patients — including those whose procedures were postponed because of yesterday’s strike — have listened to the BMA and the government and are happy to support the junior doctors.
They know that these vital junior staff are imbued with the ethos of the NHS and are worried that excessive hours, worked routinely, will result in tired doctors making potentially disastrous errors.
They are unconvinced of the Health Secretary’s commitment to the NHS, its patients or staff.
Hunt’s readiness to “go back to Acas any day” is less than impressive without a signal that he is prepared to listen as well as talk.
However, his preference for playing politics by asserting that 40 per cent of junior doctors worked yesterday does not augur well for a settlement.
The Health Secretary would like to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, counterposing the 40 per cent figure against the 98 per cent as though this indicates a change of heart among junior doctors.
Not at all. They overwhelmingly back the BMA position, which involves not putting patients at any risk, so, if they were scheduled to cover emergency care yesterday, that is where they would be.
The only brightness on the political horizon for Hunt is Ukip leader Nigel Farage’s opposition to the junior doctors’ action, calling some of them “extremely militant” and “on the way to being to some of the best-paid members of society.”
Whether they will ever earn as much as Farage did for the socially crucial role of City metals trader is dubious.
More wholesome is the response of the Labour Party, which has openly backed the BMA strike, ending the party’s previous refusal to support any industrial action.
Jeremy Corbyn’s denunciation of Hunt’s media smearing of junior doctors, together with shadow health minister Justin Madders’s unequivocal assignment of blame to the government for provoking the dispute, and the presence of Labour MPs on BMA picket lines, illustrates the scale of change since Corbyn became leader.
Green MP Caroline Lucas’s reference to Cabinet “bully boys” and her own solidarity visit to striking staff at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital provide further evidence that public opinion is with the junior doctors.
Hunt and his Tory-Ukip supporters might wonder why yesterday’s strike took place only in England.
It’s because the Labour government in Cardiff and its SNP counterpart in Edinburgh have no intention of making enemies of NHS staff.
Welsh Health Secretary Mark Drakeford told junior doctors in November that “the approach we take in Wales is always one of discussion, negotiation and agreement.”
His Scottish equivalent Shona Robison emphasised the need to “work in partnership” to improve services, pledging that “we will not be seeking to impose any new arrangements in Scotland.”
Hunt is out on a limb, out of line with public and political reality — save for Farage.
The government should recognise that it has bitten off more than it can chew. It should call off the dogs now and tell the BMA that it is ready to negotiate a fair agreement.
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